The Distaste of Feeding Felt Needs in the LCMS Captured on Ohio District Blog, by Pr. Rossow

Over on the Ohio District website there is a blog (PDF) (since this was posted the blog has been taken down – see the note at the end of this post) that leaves a bad taste in the Confessional Lutheran reader’s mouth. It is written by Rev. Kevin Wilson of the Ohio district staff. He uses the marketing technique of Chipotle Mexican restaurants as a key for marketing the church. The distaste is not in the Chipotle – I’ve eaten there a few times and it is tasty – but in the fact that Rev. Wilson proposes that we base the philosophy of congregation life on the felt needs approach of marketing. He rightly notes that Chipotle has struck a chord with the Millennial generation and then goes on to say that the church ought to take a page out of Chipotle’s playbook and seek to appeal to the Millennials. This is not surprising since Rev. Wilson has a doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary, an anti-sacramental and heterodox institution. (If LCMS pastors desire a Doctorate of Ministry I recommend the program at Ft. Wayne. St. Louis also has a decent program but it is more sociological driven than it ought to be.)

Before going any further with the critique of Rev. Wilson’s blogpost, let me say that I admire the Ohio District for hosting a blog on their website and even though I disagree with much of what he says, it refreshing that they give airtime to a fellow like Rev. Wilson who has clear and stark opinions that are thought provoking. I admire Wilson’s forth-rightness but I also would encourage President Cripe of the Ohio District, to consider removing Rev. Wilson from the district staff. He maybe thought-provoking but he has drunk too deeply of the felt-needs, church-marketing Kool-Aid. Rev. Wilson appears to be a talented man but setting up the Fuller Kool-Aid stand at the Ohio district is harmful for the church.

Speaking of Rev. Wilson’s talents, I do want to offer one more caveat of praise. He has an excellent post about the naming of his cat that faithfully illutrates the Scriptural doctrine of baptism. You can read it by clicking here, and I recommend you do. It is all about how a barnyard cat received a name and became a somebody. (My only beef with the article is that he named his cat “Punkin.” Talk about your trite pet names. One would think that someone with a doctorate from Fuller could be more creative than that. “Punkin” fails my trite pet name test unlike my kitty’s name, “Happy Bob,” but that is a story for another post.)

In his post on Chipotle, after extolling their approach to marketing Wilson says

In fact if I were launching a new church today I likely would focus on worship, small and medium sized relational groups centered on the Christian life and helping members serve in their communities.

That is not the worst trio one could come up with around which to build a church. That is not my concern. (I will save my critique of “relational groups” for another post.) My concern is the methodology of marketing that is at the root of Wilson’s recipe for organizing the church. Rev. Wilson frames the building of a parish around marketing. This is dangerous. The confessional church is not built around marketing but is built around the confession of the faith revealed by the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures. There is a huge difference between the two and every Lutheran needs to understand it and apply it to his own congregation.

Marketing is a discipline that has arisen in the last generation based on the nano second universe of media. Marketing basically surveys people for what they feel they need in life and then creates a product and program to meet those needs that is advertised in small media bites in order to attract people to the product. Meeting felt needs is bad and trying to reduce the message to media bites is also problematic. Mankind is not able to properly discern or even “feel” what its true needs are nor in what pacakge they ought to come.

By the way, we need to distinguish marketing from publicity. Publicity is different than marketing. The church ought to use the best publicity tools available to it. But the church also ought to run as far as it can away from marketing. Publicity means taking your message, which in the case of the church has been received by revelation from heaven, and communicating it in a clear, smart, attractive and even winsome manner. Marketing means re-doing your product based on the felt needs of people. This is problematic because the survey is being done of those who cannot distinguish generic pagan spirituality from the Holy Spirit. We are surveying people who are dead in their trespasses (Col. 2:1) and do not understand the things of God (I Cor. 2:12).

The well-intentioned folks at Fuller seminary have been haunting the LCMS for the last twenty five years or so. It is foolish for confessional Lutherans to try to learn from the “Fuller Brush salesmen” of Fuller Seminary. Because they have no real Gospel (they reject the God-given ability of the pastor to forgive sins) and because they see no power in the sacraments, they end up wrongly making clever marketing tools out to be the real power in the church and the things around which we ought to organize. They certainly profess that the Gospel forgives sins but because they strip the office of the ministry and the sacraments from the Gospel, they are not left with much of a tangible Word and so the power of culture is able to step in, fill the void and dilute the pure Gospel.

We encourage Rev. Wilson to stick to “Punkin” and baptism and renounce his Fuller ways of organizing the church around felt needs. It is not his right nor my right to determine how the church will be organized. We are humble servants who receive the organizational principles of the parish from on high.

Here is a better way to organize the church from some fellows who were committed to receiving teaching and not inventing teaching based on felt needs. From the Augsburg Confession, Article VII:

1] Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.

Note: As of about 2 PM this Saturday afternoon, the blog post by Rev. Wilson on the Ohio District website has been taken down. I do not know the reason why. If you go to the link for it above there is an enigmatic description of the reason. I did alert Rev. Wilson earlier today that I had put this post up so that he would hear it from me first.

On the one hand, I am glad that this post on marketing based church philosophy is not longer out there in cyberspace for people to read. The theological world is a safer place now. On the other hand I am sorry that it is down because it so clearly illustrated this harmful approach to church that is deeply entrenched in the LCMS. May God bring it to an end and restore our church to trust in his means of grace!

Someone did have a copy of the post saved. If you want to read it you can do so by clicking here.

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